All Pakistani citizens must declare their religion when applying for identity documents or government jobs, according to a 9 March ruling of the Islamabad High Court. Human rights activists argue that this will create another opportunity for the government to discriminate against minorities.
Human Rights Watch has condemned the ruling for attacking religious freedom in the country and stated it “would enable and incite violence”.
The court ruled following a petition brought forward by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Islamist party, which engineered violent street demonstrations against the government in November 2017, after the country’s Law Minister, Chaudhry Mahmood Bashir Virk, proposed changing the declaration made by candidates running for political office locally and nationally.
Islamists alleged the change opened the way for members of the Ahmadi sect – who are viewed by them as apostates from Islam – to potentially run for office as Muslims.
Although Islamists appear to have petitioned the court to rule primarily to target Ahmadiyyas, who were officially defined as non-Muslims by the government in 1974, the decision will affect all religious minorities in Pakistan.
Nasir Saeed director of CLAAS-UK, an organisation which provides legal aid to persecuted Christians, stated: “Religious minorities who are already under attack and suffering because of discriminatory laws and the government’s discriminatory policies will come further under attack [because of the ruling].”